Christmas may now be past, but holiday credit card bills can haunt you well into the new year.
Maybe you spent more than you planned on a last-minute gift or sprang for dinner for unexpected holiday guests. Decembers tend to bust the best of budgets.
But a new year offers the chance to wipe the slate clean. Try these post-holiday hacks to pay down debt and replenish savings.
1. Tackle balances wisely
Traditionally, financial advisers have told consumers to pay off their highest-interest debts first, as their cost adds up the fastest.
But studies have found advantages to the snowball approach, which involves paying off the smallest debt first. Then, the money that had been going to pay off that debt is added to the payment for the next debt in line, and so on, continuing to incorporate payments as debts are retired.
To determine which approach is better for you, check out “The Best Way to Kill Off Credit Card Debt.”
2. Transfer a balance
Shifting your balance to a credit card that offers zero percent interest on balance transfers might buy you some breathing room.
For help finding the right no-interest card for you, check out the credit card search tool in Money Talks News’ Solutions Center. For example, select “0% APR” or “Balance Transfer” from the menus on the left to view various cards with those features.
3. Turn gift cards into cash
Online marketplaces such as Raise.com enable you to sell unwanted gift cards to someone else for a little less than their face value.
4. Return gifts
You won’t be alone if you return a gift that doesn’t thrill you.
If you have the receipt or a gift receipt, bring it back to the store for cash. Even if you don’t have a receipt, try to return it. You might get store credit.
If possible, make sure the item is in its original packaging, and keep tags on clothing and shoes. For more pointers, check out “12 Tips for Gracefully Returning Holiday Gifts.”
You also can post unwanted gifts for sale online, such as on eBay, Craigslist or neighborhood Facebook groups.
5. Shop your pantry
Got holiday leftovers? Get creative with what you’ve got on hand. Only shop for what you need fresh, like milk and produce.
Avoid last-minute fast-food outings, take lunch to work and do without a cappuccino.
6. Track your money
Use the free tools provided by Money Talks News partner Personal Capital or a similar app that allows you to view all of your accounts — including checking, savings and retirement accounts — in one place.
Such apps generally let you track your spending and even your net worth.
Knowing exactly where all your money is going each month can help you find more funds to put toward paying off your debt. And tracking your net worth can help you build your savings.
7. Pay yourself first
Once you’ve paid off your debt, prioritize building an emergency fund. Having money set aside for unexpected expenses is key to avoiding the need to take on debt in the future.
Perhaps the best way to build up any type of savings is to pay yourself first, such as through payroll deduction. With this approach, you have money automatically taken from your paycheck and transferred to a savings or retirement account.
Your employer may even allow you to directly deposit paychecks into multiple accounts.
Also, send any additional income from raises, bonuses, cash awards or other windfalls straight to savings.